His Outlook Leaves Bitter Taste of Old Milkshake
On one of the biggest racing days of the year at Santa Anita, including the chance to watch Declan’s Moon, the local favorite to win the Kentucky Derby, claim its fifth consecutive victory, one of the game’s top trainers said anyone who wagers on horses is either “a [gambling] addict or an idiot.”
Go Baby Go, all right, and as far as Jeff Mullins sees it, take everyone with you, which by the look of empty grandstands on most days here, is just where this sport is headed.
The problem, Mullins said, “are all the addicts and idiots crying because they lost a $2 bet,” and then demanding a level playing field. “It will never be a level playing field. There are a lot of things people don’t know, and won’t know.”
I interrupted to suggest it’s not fair for the members of the general public who pay $4 for parking, $5 for admission, $2 for a program, $4 for the Daily Racing Form and who think that, with a little work, they might figure out who is going to win a race. The same idiots, of course, who bet money, which accounts for the purses won by Mullins’ horses.
“If you bet on horses, I would call you an idiot,” said Mullins, who finished 11th nationally last year in money earned in horse racing. “I don’t bet; there’s a reason they call it gambling.
“I train to win and that’s all I care about. It’s not my problem [if the general public is deceived]. They ought to bring in slot machines, then we could run our horses and make a living without worrying about some crybaby calling the stewards and raising a fit.”
Mullins, a 30% winner before his horses tested positive for sodium milkshakes three weeks ago, sounded like someone who could use an Alka-Seltzer now that his horses are winning only 9% of their races since being sent to the detention barn.
The statistics would suggest Mullins was caught cheating, but he claims it’s the 24-hour stay in the detention barn that has unnerved his horses, while suggesting the fix is in when it comes to testing horses here.
He said Rick Arthur, who is overseeing the milkshake testing program at Santa Anita, is guilty of a conflict of interest since he’s also the day-to-day veterinarian for more than half a dozen Santa Anita trainers, including Richard Mandella, whose horses finished one-two in the Santa Anita Handicap.
“For a guy who has won as many Breeders’ Cup races as Mandella has, I’d like to see his tests,” said Mullins, who didn’t stop there. “I would think Bruce Headley’s horses are over [the testing limit] every time they run. How do we know? The testing results are never released. Headley’s sister-in-law, Ingrid Fermin, is on the [California Horse Racing Board], and ever since I claimed Choctaw Nation, one of Headley’s horses, Fermin has been after me.”
And I thought the Dodgers had problems.
Trainers Bob Baffert and Doug O’Neill agreed there appears to be a conflict of interest with the track’s vet, and with Fermin’s relationship to Headley.
“You hear it on the backstretch; there’s too much venom in the Headley camp, and when Jeff claimed Choctaw Nation, that was his downfall,” Baffert said. “Bruce and his sister-in-law are very close, and it might be nothing, but appearance-wise the conflict of interest doesn’t look good.”
Mullins would like folks to believe that’s why he became a target, his own way of dodging accountability for spending a month in the detention barn.
As for the track’s vet, O’Neill said, “How do you have someone police something when they are an active member with the people they are policing?”
THE FIRST trainer to demonstrate no regard for the public was Vladimir Cerin, who was also caught violating the milkshake rules. Cerin made like Jamie McCourt and ran from me Saturday, but he recently said the public has no right to inside information -- such as whether the horse has had surgery allowing it to breathe while running -- that he could use to make a profit at the betting window.
A conflict of interest suggests a disregard for public opinion, and so I asked Arthur about appearances, public trust and the money he takes from trainers to work for them and how that might affect his discipline decisions.
“There’s a legitimate issue there, but there is no one else to fill the role of overseeing the program,” he said, and if that’s the case, then he should have stopped treating his clients’ horses while overseeing the program.
Arthur said the general manager at Santa Anita is the first to know the name of offending trainers, so there is no way he could show favoritism. He said he would talk to Mandella and Headley about making public their test results. I’m still checking to see what sort of conflicts of interest the Santa Anita GM might have.
Fermin said she’s honest too, not out to get Mullins, and has never discussed Choctaw Nation with her brother-in-law. “Never?” I said, and she said, “Never.” Who knew that I’d have a better relationship with my son-in-law.
She said her board has the right to test any horse, and has been doing so. I asked how the horses are selected, and she said, “Up north, I asked the stewards to pick out a few.”
“Did you personally single out Mullins down here?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said. “But we also did a Headley horse.”
The way things are going here in the land of milkshakes, conflicts of interest and idiots, for all I know she’s talking about Choctaw Nation, the horse Headley owned, and Mullins claimed.
JOCKEY EDDIE DELAHOUSSAYE, a nice guy known for seemingly always starting in last but then timing it like few others in the game to make the winning rush for the wire, was honored at Santa Anita.
Eddie D won 6,384 races in his career and told the crowd, “Without the fans, we wouldn’t have a sport.”
Tell that to Mullins & Co.
T.J. Simers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read previous columns by Simers, go to latimes.com/simers.